Do you get “the celiac bloat”?
Spend enough time in the gluten-free blogosphere, and you’re sure to find posts about bloating. Many consider it the first sure sign that they’ve consumed gluten. Some even share photos, as though to prove they aren’t imagining things (which, no doubt, many of them have been told).
Though I won’t be posting a photo, I wanted to share a bloating story of my own. This one’s from the archives: an email I sent to my dad back in 2010.
The only context you need is this: my junior year of college, I lost a third of my body weight. (On purpose, although I kept it going a bit longer than I should have.) Just weeks after hitting my “target” weight, I became very ill.
By the time I wrote this email, I’d started to experiment with what I now see as Band-Aid management strategies. They were helping, but not entirely—and not at all with what seemed to me the worst part.
. . . the thing that’s most upsetting is that my belly is constantly swollen and bloated, and gets progressively worse throughout the day. After I worked so hard to get in shape, now I can’t wear my new clothes because they’re too tight. I haven’t had any days for a while where the pain got as bad as it did those few days, so I’m really only dealing with mild discomfort most of the time (although sometimes pretty bad discomfort by the end of the day). But I just feel depressed and embarrassed all the time about the way I look.
I guess you’ll probably think that I’m noticing it more than other people are, and that’s probably true, but if I wore my fitted shirts people definitely would notice. By the end of the day my stomach is often so distended that I literally look several months pregnant. . . .
I’m afraid this will never go away no matter what I try and I’ll never be happy with the way I look or feel ever again. And I’m trying to gain some perspective because I know I could have far worse troubles, but it just seems so devastatingly unfair that at the time in my life when I should be my most healthy and look my best, instead I get this.
Note: This was originally all one very long paragraph. I’ve made cuts and added paragraph breaks because it was utterly unreadable. Sorry, Dad.
When I wrote this, I was strength training several days a week, “doing abs,” and running almost daily. To have this uncontrollable bloat “ruin” those efforts was frustrating, especially since I was more image-obsessed then than I’ve been before or since.
Back then, I felt I would rather deal with mild and increasingly worse discomfort every day possibly forever than be bloated. It was more important to me to look good than to feel good. Sad, right?
Since then, some of my other symptoms have improved. My weight has gone slightly up and down; I’ve worked out more or less consistently; and I’ve eaten more or less cleanly, on a few different diet plans (omnivorous, vegetarian, low-FODMAP, and now gluten-free). But the bloating has continued. I both feel bloated—that awesome “please just pop me now” balloonlike feeling—and look bloated—just a little, usually, but sometimes a lot.
I’m in a healthier place now than I was then, body-image-wise. But you know what? I still find the bloating unfair (if not devastatingly), and I still find it depressing. Some days, I still want to just stay in bed.
Bloating is one of the symptoms that consistently pops up in descriptions of celiac disease, perhaps because it’s less graphic than the alternatives. But it also affects 10 to 30 percent of the general population, often for unclear causes.
Some people don’t think of bloating as a big deal. “Oh, everyone has that from time to time,” they might say (as a friend did to me back when I first got sick). Protesting that it’s different when it’s every day may or may not penetrate, but it’s true: it is different. Sure, in comparison to other symptoms—including my own!—bloating is mostly just a nuisance. But when it happens every day, it gets to you.
These days, I think of bloating as just one more frustrating aspect of a frustrating illness. One more daily bit of proof from my body that I’m not the boss of it.
One day, maybe, I’ll prove it wrong.
What’s your least favorite symptom of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity? Any good “bloat begone” tips to share?